Red Blood of Patriots

Dong Ha Takeoff (2)

This morning as I was watching coverage of President Donald Trump’s inauguration, I was keeping track of Twitter. In his speech, President Trump spoke this line – “It is time to remember that old wisdom our soldiers will never forget: that whether we are black or brown or white, we all bleed the same red blood of patriots, we all enjoy the same glorious freedoms, and we all salute the same great American Flag.” Immediately after he said it ,  Conservative, Inc. writer John Podhoretz, who has a reputation for arrogance, tweeted that traitors have red blood too, which is true enough but the way he said it really pissed me off. The president’s line reminded me of my own experience with red, American blood, although it was Podhoretz’ comment that caused me to dwell on it for some time. I know exactly what the blood of our armed forces, whether patriot or not, looks like after it has been spilled.

During the late Southeast Asian unpleasantness, I was an Air Force flight crewmember, a loadmaster assigned to squadrons that flew the now-famous, but not so much then, Lockheed C-130 Hercules. It was sometime in the spring of 1967. I was nearing the end of my tour. A year before, I was flying on missions over North Vietnam and Laos dropping flares for fighters to attack trucks bringing supplies south to the communists who were seeking to overthrow the government of South Vietnam. I had returned to routine transport flying, or hauling trash, as we were beginning to call it. Our flying really was routine – hauling troops and cargo, but mostly cargo, around South Vietnam and Thailand. We were physically based at Naha, Okinawa but we’d go TDY for sixteen days at a time to either Cam Ranh Bay in South Vietnam or Bangkok, Thailand to fly airlift missions. We called the stints “shuttles.” We’d take off early on our first day in country, then start later and later each day until we were flying mainly night missions, then we’d have a day off and start over again on the day missions. After two weeks, we’d go home for a few days then come back and do it all over again.

On this particular shuttle, I was flying with Captain Tom McQuaide, an experienced C-130 pilot who had come to our squadron from a Tactical Air Command C-130 squadron at Lockbourne AFB, Ohio. Some of our pilots had come from other commands and other aircraft types, and were restricted to airfields with runways at least 4,000 feet long because of several prop-reversal accidents involving the C-130As we were flying. Flying with them truly was routine but when flying with an experienced C-130 pilot like Captain McQuaide, we got into the short, unimproved airfields out in the boondocks where the war was. (We actually got shot at no matter what airfield we went to – one night after landing at Tan Son Nhut, the huge airport at Saigon, the air freight people who met us told me they’d watch us come in and that we’d been trailed by tracer bullets.)

We were a little over half-way through our two weeks of flying. We took off for our first sortie late in the afternoon and had then gone to night missions, which usually involved moving backlog cargo out of Cam Ranh to the major airfields around South Vietnam, particularly Qui Nhon. We went north to Da Nang for the last part of our mission and after dropping off our load, air freight brought out a stack of five empty pallets – we were required to always have five pallets on the airplane to insure a supply of pallets in the country – and were supposed to take off and fly south to Qui Nhon to pick up cargo for Cam Ranh. When we reached Cam Ranh, we’d be finished for the night. I had just finished chaining the empties to the ramp when a dispatch truck drove up to the back of the open ramp. The driver stuck his head out of the window and informed me that our mission had been changed – we were being diverted to a combat emergency air evacuation mission to Dong Ha. Combat emergency was the highest priority for airlift missions in Southeast Asia. My adrenaline started pumping just at the words.

I was well-acquainted with Dong Ha. I took the above picture there in the fall of 1965 when I was at a tiny island in the Philippines called Macton on temporary duty from Pope AFB, North Carolina. We took a hit that day, although we didn’t know it until we got back to Mactan. Miraculously, it was only one of two hits I took in more than 1,200 combat sorties although we got shot at on nearly every flight. I had flown air evac missions before, but not a CE. In fact, although air evac was one of our missions, we rarely flew them because Army and Marine helicopters usually flew wounded men to rear area hospitals. As the dispatcher was pulling away, a forklift came up to  remove the forklift. As soon as the pallets were removed, I went to the front of the airplane and got the emergency escape ladder and installed it just behind the wing – the ladder was part of the litter system. Then another truck pulled up and the air evac crew got out, a nurse and two enlisted medical technicians. The nurse was male – only male nurses were assigned to combat missions. They loaded their equipment on the airplane and got on.

The nurse, a lieutenant, told me that Dong Ha was under attack and that a Marine had been hit in the head. We were to pick him up and bring him back to Da Nang, hopefully in time for emergency surgery to save his life. Casualties were mounting and there were other wounded, some in litters and some walking, and we would be bringing them back as well because the field hospital at Dong Ha was running out of space. After engine start, I continued setting up litter stanchions and dropping the straps from the ceiling that served to secure one side of each litter. We continued rigging stanchions and dropping straps while we taxied out and took off. Each stanchion had steps that could be dropped down so someone could climb up and reach the straps – since it was my airplane, that someone was me. The medical crew and I also dropped the nylon seats on the sides to have them available for walking wounded.

The flight wasn’t that long, not more than twenty minutes at most. Dong Ha was about 50 miles northwest of Da Nang. It sat right on the Demilitarized Zone. On the other side was North Vietnam. When I went in there the first time in the fall of 1965, there was nothing much there but since then, the Marines had moved in and made it a major base. Navy Seabees had laid 2,900 feet of pierced-aluminum planking on the dirt runway, making it an “all-weather” runway. C-130s went in there every day, but not normally at night.  North Vietnamese troops probed the base nearly every night; it was considered too dangerous for routine missions at night.

The firefight was still going on right off the runway when we landed. The guys in the cockpit saw the green and red tracers flying back and forth. I didn’t see them. I was too busy in the back. I was so pumped up on adrenaline that I went outside and started opening the doors that covered the gas turbine compressor, the auxiliary power unit that provided power when the engines weren’t running with the #2 propeller still coasting down. As soon as I got the rear ramp opened, Navy ambulances began arriving with the wounded Marines. The number had increased drastically since we left Da Nang a half hour before. I don’t recall the exact number but there were around a dozen or so men in litters and around twice that many walking wounded. I remember noticing that none of the men were black. I noticed this because civil rights leaders in the US, particularly Martin Luther King, were claiming that blacks were being killed and wounded at rates far in excess of their numbers.

The men had received only minimal medical care and many were bloody and still bleeding. In addition to the Marine with the head wound for which we had initially been sent out, there was at least one other patient whose life was in danger. While the medical crew took care of the litter patients, I helped the walking wounded settle into their seats and fasten their seatbelts. Now, I had always thought I was squeamish; Vietnam proved that I’m not. The men were all bloody but they seemed lucid enough. Once all of the patients were loaded, we fired up the four engines. When the flight engineer switched power from one generator to another, there was a momentary power loss. A huge sigh of dismay went up from the patients. The loss was only momentary and the airplane was only dark for a couple of seconds. Captain McQuaide took off right over the firefight. He reckoned it was safer than taxiing to that end of the runway and then turning around, and exposing the airplane to AK-47 fire in the process. By taking off over them, we’d only be in range for a few seconds. As far as I know, we took no hits.

There wasn’t anything I could do once we were airborne but keep watch on everybody. The medics and the nurse were tending to the litter patients. They were cleaning their wounds and nipping away pieces of flesh, although I didn’t notice it at the time as they were in the back of the cargo compartment and I was sitting in the first seat aft of the entrance door at the front. The nurse was devoting his attention to the Marine with the head wound. He looked up then started walking toward me. I knew the Marine was dead. He told me to ask the navigator for our coordinates so he could put it in the death certificate. He told me not to say anything to the other wounded. He left the dead Marine’s head uncovered. I felt very deflated.

We continued to Da Nang. We taxied to the ramp and were met by a blue Air Force ambulance/bus. They are large busses that had been configured with litter stanchions in the back and seats in the front. More medical personnel were with them. I stood by the dead Marine while the medical crew offloaded the litters and the walking wounded filed by. The nurse had put me there to try to keep the other Marines from realizing he had died. It didn’t work. The other litter patients had been offloaded and the one litter remained in place. The walking wounded had to go right by it and they realized something was wrong.

The bus pulled away and the medical crew got their stuff and went with it, leaving me with the dead Marine. Because we were only a few minutes out when the copilot called and advised that we needed Graves Registration, it was some time before they arrived to take the body. The nurse had given me the paperwork recording the man’s death. I didn’t cover up his head. I looked at him and thought to myself, “What a waste.” I wondered about him. He had the rough face of a coal miner or a football player. I wondered if he might be from Pennsylvania. I didn’t have a clue how old he was. I was twenty-one myself. He could have been older or he could have been nineteen for all I knew. One of the officers, I think it was Capt. McQuaide, came back to where I was keeping watch over the dead Marine and kept me company until Graves Registration finally came out in their olive drab ambulance to pick up the body, or KIA as they are referred to in the military, or were before the military became “sensitive.” After they left, I went outside to keep watch on the engines during engine start then came back inside and closed the ramp. Once the engines were started, I went to work stowing the litter straps and moving the stanchions to their stowage at the front of the cargo compartment.

It was after I had put everything away that I realized that our airplane looked like an operating room after multiple surgeries. Normally, I would sweep the floor and put the dirt in the trash can that was part of every airplane’s extra equipment. We were on our way back to Cam Ranh empty as we had already exceeded our crew duty day. I called Captain McQuaide on the intercom and told him we were going to need a firetruck. I’d never called for one before but had heard of others doing it. The floor was covered with blood but there were also pieces of flesh where the nurse had snipped them off of the wounds. The only way to clean it up was to wash it out.

By the time we landed at Cam Ranh, the sun was up. There was no firetruck but there was a water truck waiting for us. We pulled into our parking spot and shut down the engines. The maintenance dispatcher’s truck pulled up and the airplane’s crew chief got out. He bounded up the steps and took one look at his airplane, then turned around with his hand over his mouth and ran back down the steps, then started retching. The water truck driver took one look then handed me the hose and left. The officers and flight engineer had all left. It was just me, a water hose and a bloody, gory airplane. I started washing. The water mixed with the blood and turned red.

I grew up in West Tennessee about 75 miles from Shiloh Battlefield where one of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War was fought. I’d been there once on a field trip when I was in elementary school. One of the features on the park is a pond called The Bloody Pond. According to local tradition, the waters of the pond turned red with the blood of the wounded soldiers, Confederate and Federal, who went there to drink and wash their wounds. As I washed the blood and gore out of the airplane that was now being returned to its crew chief, the bloody water reminded me of that pond.

Now, I don’t know if those young Marines considered themselves to be patriots or not. Seriously, I doubt that they did. Patriotism was not something young soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines talked about in those days. I’m sure they were volunteers, at least most probably were. Draftees only went into the Army as a rule, although the Marine Corps had started accepting them due to the lack of volunteers in a country where the youth were becoming violently “anti-war” and pro-Viet Cong. Nevertheless, we were serving our country, no matter our motivations – and we all bled red.

What upset me about Podhoretz’ Tweet is that he’s never seen anyone shed blood for their country and never will. He, along with the rest of the Conservative, Inc. crowd are good at using the word processor as a weapon but none of them will ever hear a shot fired in anger. They’re all talk. As for “traitors,” a traitor is a patriot to the country he or she supports. We all bleed red.

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Remember Harold Martin?

Last Friday, FBI Director James Comey sent a letter to Republican members of Congress advising that the case against presidential candidate Hillary Clinton had been reopened because information had been found in “an unrelated case” that might pertain to the case. Now, this is earthshaking news that veteran reporter and Clinton biographer Carl Bernstein says can only be due to blockbuster information. (Bernstein has also said there’s “no way” it can be bigger than Watergate but then he has no knowledge of the information and doesn’t know what it contains.) Naturally, the Clinton campaign and Clinton are screaming foul and demanding “answers” even though the answer has been given – that Hillary Clinton is under criminal investigation. The New York Times came out and claimed that the information was found on a computer jointly used by former Congressman Anthony Weiner and his wife Huma Abedin, the Indian Muslim and former White House intern Clinton took under her wing back when her husband was doing the same thing with Monica Lewinsky. The Times and other news outlets, including FOX news have “confirmed” this information through “unidentified sources in the FBI”. While it is possible that the unrelated case is the Weiner case – he is being investigated for sending inappropriate texts to an underage female – there is another, more likely source.

On August 29, a National Security contractor named Harold Martin was arrested for possessing classified information. Martin, a US Navy veteran, possessed highly classified information dating back for two decades. Now, let’s think about the National Security Agency and what it does. Dating back to 1917, the NSA was chartered in its current form in 1952 by President Harry Truman. The documentation chartering the agency was (and still is) classified and the organization’s very existence was kept secret The NSA – often referred to as “No Such Agency” depends heavily on signals intelligence services in each of the military services. Until 1979, the Air Force, of which I was a part from 1963-1975, had the Air Force Security Service. The Army and Navy each had their own signals intelligence services/commands. The role of the AFSS was interception of foreign communications, particularly radio communications, using sophisticated listening equipment at remote sites around the world and onboard modified transport airplanes and bombers – the C-47, C-54, C-130 and C-135 and B-17 and B-29. Highly intelligent young airmen were selected to train as “Crypto” technicians through a battery of tests administered during basic training. (I was tested because I had taken Spanish in high school.) Those who were selected to train as linguists were placed in special programs that included two years at selected universities. Linguists and technicians were cleared at a level even higher than Top Secret, it was commonly referred to as a “Crypto” clearance but no one who didn’t have one really knew what it was called. I once met a young cook at Pope Air Force Base, North Carolina who had cross-trained into the aircraft loadmaster field from crypto. Although he had a high security clearance, his job change required a new background check. He had recently been married and the background check revealed that his new wife had family connections in a communist country. He lost his clearance and was sent to the chow hall as a cook!

There is another side to the signals intelligence mission that is not generally known. It was whispered about within the military. It is the mission of protecting US secrets by monitoring communications of American officials and military personnel. The first time I ever heard it referred to officially was when I went on temporary duty to Kadena AB, Okinawa (I later went PCS to Naha, an airbase some 12 miles away.) We were told during our orientation that all telephone lines were monitored and we should be very careful about what we said on the telephone. The admonition was repeated when I reported for my permanent assignment at Naha several months later. There were signs on the wall by telephones reminding that calls were monitored. Several years after I left the military, I worked with an Army veteran who had served in the Army’s counterpart to the AFSS. He told me that his job was monitoring telephone lines, and how that he and his buddy had once monitored conversations between a high-ranking general and his mistress. I was reminded again of how the NSA and it’s military agencies monitor communications when my son entered his plebe year at the US Naval Academy. Shortly after he got there, he told me to be very careful what I said in Emails because their Emails were monitored.

Now, NSA monitoring of communications is conducted not only of military personnel, but also of Federal officials, including Congressmen, Senators and members of the Executive Branch with access to classified information. There is no doubt that Hillary Clinton’s communications were monitored throughout her term as Secretary of State and probably while she was a US Senator since she was a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and would have had access to classified information. Her communications may have also been monitored – and probably were – while she was Bill Clinton’s First Lady. It is highly likely, no, it is CERTAIN that Harold Martin’s trove includes Emails from and to Hillary Clinton.

Now, the question arises -if Hillary was discussing classified information on unofficial channels while she was SOS, why wasn’t she prosecuted? The answer is simple – while military personnel are subject to prosecution under the UCMJ, members of the Executive Branch are prosecuted in the Federal courts and any prosecution would have had to be initiated by the DOJ, which, like the SOS, is headed by a presidential appointee. Any information would have been “kept secret,” or covered up at the highest level.

What we’re seeing now is a struggle at the highest level, a struggle between Congress and the Executive Branch. We’ll see what happens.

Roy Clark may not have picked cotton, but I did

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Although cotton is associated with large plantations, much cotton production in the South was and still is by small farmers with only a few acres of cotton land. While slave labor was used on larger farms and plantations, many farmers and their families provided their own labor.  After slavery was abolished, Although some call it a tree, cotton is actually a shrub that grows in the tropical and sub-tropical regions of the world. Along with corn, or maize, it’s native to the Americas where its fibrous seed protector has been woven into cloth for at least 15,000 years. Cotton was the product that made the United States into an economic power and it was cotton, not slavery, that led to the secession of eleven states from the Union thus precipitating the war now commonly – but erroneously – called the Civil War.

Although cotton is associated with large plantations, much cotton production in the South was and still is by small farmers with only a few acres of cotton land. While slave labor was used on larger farms and plantations, many farmers and their families provided their own labor.  After slavery was abolished, many land-owners contracted with landless farmers, white as well as black, to farm their land for a share of the production. The land-owner typically footed the bill for all of the production costs and the sharecropper got part of the proceeds from the sale of the cotton. Another method was to rent land out to tenants.

Although cotton cloth has been produced for thousands of years in various parts of the world, it wasn’t until Eli Whitney invented his cotton gin that cotton production finally became economical. Prior to Whitney’s invention, cotton seeds had to be separated from the locks in which they grew by hand, a tedious and time-consuming task. Once seeds could be separated mechanically, the production of cotton became a major crop in the southern portion of the new United States because American cotton was found to be superior to varieties found elsewhere in the world. Reportedly, by 1860 cotton accounted for three/quarters of US exports and was the driving force behind the US economy. Although cotton could not be grown in New England, the region had become dependent on Southern cotton for fiber for its mills, most of which were water powered.

Modern Americans commonly believe that growing cotton was a laborious task involving the labor of thousands of slaves working in the hot sun. In reality, this is not true. Yes, some aspects of cotton production required manual labor, specifically the hoeing of the rows to remove grass and weeds and the harvesting of the mature locks, but much of the actual labor was provided by animals, particularly mules. Mules and horses, and sometimes oxen, pulled the plows that broke up the soil in springtime and the cultivators used to plow the rows until the plants were large enough to shade out the grasses and weeds that came up in the fields. Until mechanical cotton planters were developed, planting was by hand as was hoeing, commonly known as “chopping.” Hoes are metal blades attached to wooden handles that are used to cut grasses and weeds at the roots. Once cotton plants reach a significant height, the fields are “laid by” and receive no more attention until picking time.

Although cotton is a perennial plant in the wild, it became an annual in North America due to winter temperatures that kill the stalk. Cotton is planted when the danger of frost has passed; the tiny fragile plants are killed if temperatures drop to the freezing level. This can be as early as February in Texas and the Deep South or as late as April or early May in Tennessee, Missouri and Kentucky. Once the seeds have sprouted and have emerged from the soil, the plants may be thinned although modern farming practices have made this unnecessary. Neither is hoeing necessary due to the use of “pre-emergence” chemicals that are placed in the ground at the time of planting to prevent the growth of grass and weeds.

Lawrence Browning

In the Twentieth Century farmers discovered that their production could be increased by defoliating the plants, thus allowing sunlight to reach the bolls thus causing them to open sooner and more fully. The advent of the airplane allowed defoliating chemicals as well as insecticides to be dispensed quickly without damage to the plants. Insecticides became an important part of cotton farming to fight boll weevils, which can destroy a cotton crop if they aren’t eradicated. Prior to the development of insecticides, boll weevils had to be picked off by hand.

For a century after the abolishment of slavery, cotton production was essentially the same, although by the 1930s farmers were using tractors instead of horses and mules for land preparation and cultivation. Fields still had to be hoed and picking was mostly by hand. However, by the 1960s farmers were starting to use mechanical cotton pickers as they became more readily available at more reasonable prices. Wealthier farmers had started using them by the 1950s. The proliferation of mechanical cotton pickers came about at the same time as the civil rights movement and probably had a lot to do with it.  Cotton pickers eliminated the need for human pickers and thus put a lot of share croppers out of work. With no need for share croppers, landowners told them to get off of their land. Many ended up in tent cities until they were moved into towns or migrated to cities such as Memphis and St. Louis or to the North where many became part of a new welfare class when they were unable to find work due to lack of education and employability beyond the performance of menial tasks.

Tractor

As I said in the title, Roy Clark may not have picked cotton but I did. In fact, I was involved in every aspect of the growing and picking of cotton as a boy growing up in West Tennessee except planting, and then only because Daddy wanted to do it himself. We were mechanized farmers, except that we didn’t have a cotton picker. Daddy got one a year after I left home for the Air Force. As soon as I was old enough, at about ten or eleven, I started driving a tractor. At first, I mostly pulled a harrow but I eventually began disking and eventually breaking ground in the spring. Our plows were disc breakers rather than conventional turning plows but they did the same thing. Once the ground had been turned over, we went over it with a disc harrow, an implement with several rows of discs that broke up the ground into small clods. Sometimes we drug a spike harrow behind the disc to break the clods into smaller ones but sometimes we went back with the disc. Once the ground was prepared, the cotton was planted. We had a set of cotton planters that mounted on the sides of the tractor. Each side had two hoppers, one for fertilize and one for seed. The planters had plates on the bottom that were designed to space the seeds a certain distance apart.

Once the cotton was “big enough to plow,” meaning the stalks were tall enough that they wouldn’t be covered by dirt tossed up by the cultivators, we went through the fields row by row. We usually used scratchers, which were basically metal spring leafs with a small plow point on the end but we also had cultivators that used small plows. Plowing broke the surface and allowed air into the ground; it also covered the grass and weeds in the rows and cleared those from in between them. We plowed for the last time around the first of July then left the fields alone except for monitoring for boll weevils and other insects or blights.

Hoeing cotton or corn is not particularly strenuous work. We went down the rows, usually taking two at a time, and cut out the weeds and grass. I personally preferred to how corn because young cotton stalks are easy to catch with the corner of the hoe. We usually hoed in May and June when the weather wasn’t terribly hot yet. We had no hired hands so we did all of the work ourselves, sometimes with assistance from my aunts and uncles. We had a split vacation from school. We got out at the beginning of May and remained out until early July when the cotton would be laid by. We went back to school for the new year and remained in school until late September, when we got out for “cotton picking.” We were out for six weeks then went back to school in early November. Not only did those of us who lived on farms pick cotton, so did boys and girls from the surrounding towns as well as those who lived in the country but whose fathers weren’t farmers. As I recall, the going rate for cotton pickers was a nickel a pound. An average of 100 pounds a day was a pretty good average, with some pickers doing a lot better and others doing less. I knew a few people who could pick 200 pounds a day – sometimes – but they had to get to the field early and leave late to do it. I once saw something on the Internet where someone claimed they picked 600 pounds a day – uh, uh!

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While I can’t speak for those who picked cotton in the Deep South, in West Tennessee the weather conditions at picking time were pleasant. We’d start picking around the end of September and be finished by early November, although we’d go back again to pull bolls. Morning temperatures were cool and were usually in the seventies or low eighties during the day. Because wet cotton causes problems with the gin, we didn’t start picking until after the dew had burned off, usually around 10:00 AM. We stayed in the field until it was getting too dark to pick or Daddy decided it was time to quit for the day. We had no hired hands but family and neighbors often helped us, usually teenagers and older children. Some kids picked cotton to make money for school clothes but I’m sure some were boosting their family income. Picking cotton was not an unpleasant experience. Yes, we pulled a cotton sack behind us and we often were on our knees, depending on the height of the stalks, but cotton isn’t very heavy and a full sack didn’t usually weigh much more than fifty pounds. When someone’s sacks started getting full, we’d head for the trailer to weigh-in and empty it. The first weigh-in was around dinner time (lunch to Yankees) so we’d take a break to eat the sack lunch everyone had brought with them. Our family usually ate tuna or potted meat sandwiches – Mother sometimes mixed them together. Sometimes we had Vienna sausage. Some of the neighbor kids would stop by the store to buy something to take to the field with them. Some of those who  picked with us were teenage girls. Some were friends but some I barley knew before I met them in the cotton patch. Having them in the field increased my productivity because I’d pick faster to stay close to them. This is no lie – one girl I knew would come to pick wearing makeup. We were in about eighth grade at the time and I suppose it was for my benefit.

In some respects, picking cotton was a social event not unlike quilting bees and barn-raisings. Someone was always telling a story and we sometimes sang while we picked. Daddy would sometimes talk about his experiences in the war. I picked faster so I could stay close enough to him to hear what he was saying. I’d also pick faster to be closer to some of the older teenage boys (and some of the girls) who picked with us. There was sort of contest to see who picked the most each day. That was something I knew I was never going to win. I only remember a time or two when I broke the 100 lbs a day. I knew full well that I wasn’t going to be a professional cotton picker.

The skies were generally clear. if there were clouds, they were usually high cirrus clouds. Cotton picking time coincided with Indian summer, which is a great time to be outside. My main complaint was that it also coincided with squirrel and dove season. I often prayed for rain so I could go to the woods. If I recall correctly, we picked our fields at least twice then came back to pull bolls. Farmers today only pick a field once, and they use mechanical cotton pickers. Hundreds of dollars worth of cotton is often left lying on the ground where it spilled out when the operator was emptying the bin into the trailer and a lot of cotton is left on the stalks. I guarantee you that our stalks were bare when we finished pulling bolls. We didn’t get as much per pound from the gin for bolls. That money was our Christmas money.

There were potential hazards in the cotton patch, particularly the green caterpillars with the acid-filled spines we called “stinging worms.” if you accidentally brushed against one, you got a painful welt. They were one reason everyone wore  long sleeves. We wore cotton gloves to pull bolls but not to pick the cotton from the boll. Hands got chapped and somebody usually had a bottle of Corn Husker’s oil. Occasionally, someone would see a snake but they were usually non-poisonous. The copperheads were usually in the woods. Most of the snakes we saw were black or blue racers – and they raced off as soon as they were startled.

The cotton patch began changing in the 60s. I left home in July to join the Air Force, which I had wanted to do since I was about 13. It wasn’t but a couple of years later that Daddy bought a cotton picker. It was used, an International Harvester mounted on a Farmall C tractor frame and only picked one row at a time. But that was all it took. I remember being home on leave once right after he got it and thinking that if we’d had one sooner, I might not have left home. He also started growing soybeans which, like corn, are harvested mechanically. (We had neighbors who picked their corn by hand but Daddy bought a corn picker when I was still a little boy. Not only did he pick our corn, he picked corn for others as well.) More and more cotton pickers were appearing all over the South, and their advent meant the end of a lot of things, including share-cropping and split vacations for school children since kids were no longer needed in the fields to pick cotton. In fact, the cotton picker probably had more of an effect in the South than the civil rights movement.

My parents have been dead for some time, my dad since 2003 and my mom since 2008. Daddy farmed as long as he was able then started renting out the land to cotton farmers. After Mother died, their two farms were divided between me and my brothers and sisters. The same farmers who had been growing cotton on my part continued to farm it, until this year. They decided to get out of the business after a couple of bad crop years. Some other farmers are working it now. They’re growing corn.

Why I Detest Fireworks

Long ago, in a land far away, I saw my share of fireworks, only those fireworks were deadly and every one of them was designed to kill somebody and sometimes that somebody was me. Now, I am sitting here in my den and fireworks are going off all over the place – even though it is against the law and the rules of the HOA for our development to set them off. They are supposed to only be used by professional pyrotechnics experts in carefully monitored displays. But that doesn’t stop these idiots. More than likely some of the booms and bangs we’re hearing are actual gunshots. Every Fourth of July and New Years somebody is hit by a round falling back to earth. Earlier today, we went to friends for burgers and socializing. When we got home, our little dog had diarrhea that was probably caused by fireworks. She is a very sensitive little dog and has always been frightened by them. Our dogs are inside but I guarantee there will people missing their pets in the morning.

Some of the explosions were damn close. One sounded like it went off right over our house. We heard something hit the roof. I went outside to make sure the roof wasn’t on fire. It sounded just like a war, except there were more explosions. Although I was told by a shrink that I don’t have enough symptoms for a diagnosis of PTSD, I became very agitated. I wanted to go upstairs and get my shotgun and go around to my neighbors house and mow the bastards down. They fired off a rocket and it exploded right above me. I could hear particles whistling just over my head.

Yes, fireworks are pretty but for most Americans, that’s all they are. They’ve never been shot at and have never used explosions to kill someone. After all, they’re supposed to represent the rockets seen over Fort McHenry during the War of 1812. Ironically, no fireworks were shot off on the Fourth of July in 1776. In fact, no one even knew that a group of rebels in Philadelphia had signed a document declaring independence from Britain. For one thing, the document had yet to be signed. The document on display in Washington, DC was signed on August 2, 1776. Supposedly, somebody signed something on July 4 but if they did, no one knows what happened to it.

If you gotta have fireworks, go watch a public display. Don’t fire them over my house!

Getting Started

I decided to start a Word Press blog on a whim. Actually, I should be in bed but I saw someone else’s blog and decided to start one of my own rather than posting my thoughts on my own web site (www.sammcgowan.com). I’ve got a lot to say about a lot of things. We’ll see how things go.

I’ve slept on this and am  going to update the post. First, let me tell you a little about me. My name is Sam and I grew up in West Tennessee (not west Tennessee, it’s a proper name.) I’ll be 70 my next birthday. Right after my high school graduation in 1963, I enlisted in the Air Force and spent 12 years. No, I did not retire – that takes 20 years. I just got out because I was tired of military politics. Unlike the majority of Air Force “airmen”, I actually flew. I started out in aircraft maintenance then became an aircraft loadmaster and spent 11 of my 12 years on aircrew duty. I saw a lot of the world, particularly Southeast Asia. I am what the media likes to call a “decorated combat veteran,” whatever that means. After my first marriage, my new wife and I decided we wanted to become involved in church. She was Episcopalian and I had been raised Southern Baptist. We joined an independent Baptist church in Dover, Delaware and our lives changed drastically. I had already decided not to reenlist so I got out in July 1975 and we went back to Tennessee, back for me at least since my wife was from Virginia. That marriage lasted almost 20 years. My current  – and last – wife is a Chicago native who became a transplant to Texas, where we now live.

While I did not graduate from college, I have enough credits that I probably could had I elected to. Although I was unable to take off-duty courses for my most of my time in the military, I was able to take some during my last year or so before I got out, courses in aviation management. After I was discharged, I enrolled at Tristate Baptist College in Memphis where I studied systematic theology and the Bible. Some would say I am an accomplished author since I’ve authored, what, ten books? Right now I’m working on two more.

When I was a little boy, I decided I wanted to fly airplanes when I grew up. While stationed on Okinawa, where I rarely spent more than three days at a time, I started taking flying lessons but didn’t solo until I returned to the States in 1967. Over the next 43 years I logged over 16,000 hours in the air as a pilot, most of it professionally. I started flying corporate jets in 1991 and flew them until I quit flying for medical reasons in 2010.

My politics are what many call “classical liberalism,” the political philosophy that goes back to John Locke. The main principle of classical liberalism is limited government. While I believe in the rights of the individual, I’m not into the modern concept of “group identity.”  My ancestors date back to the 1600s in America, some of them at least. Some go back at least 15,000 years. My ancestry is Scottish, Irish, German, English – possibly Welsh – and Cherokee. My great-grandmother was at least half Cherokee and probably 3/4s. I do not like the term “native American.” Any child born in America is a native. Although I grew up in the South, my parents were Republicans, my dad all his life and my mother from right after they were married. My mother came from a family of Democrats, some of whom would have voted for Satan if he ran on the Democratic ticket. When I was in my 50s, I learned that one of my great-grandfathers was a night-rider. I suppose that means he was active in the Klan, the rejuvenated Klan, not the original. My parents were in favor of school integration. However, after blacks started marching and making demands, they became less enthusiastic about the “civil rights movement.” I am all for rights for everyone but I oppose special treatment for someone just because they happen to be of a particular ethnicity or race or have some kind of sexual quirk. I do not own a Confederate flag, never have and never intend to own one but I don’t believe it is a “hate symbol” nor do I believe the men who fought for the South and the women who supported them are “traitors.” There is a movement among Northerners today – and some Southern Democrats – to marginalize the South although I don’t really know why unless it is due to jealousy.

I plan to blog about all kinds of things. Some posts may be political but most will not. This will be my place to vent and take time off from my writing.

Sam McGowan 7/1/2015

http://www.sammcgowan.com